FULHAM AND HAMMERSMITH HISTORICAL SOCIETY TOUR OF MARGRAVINE CEMETERY

15 September, 2021

By our Guide Robert Stephenson

On an evening in July about twenty FHHS members had a tour of Margravine cemetery, adjacent to Barons Court Tube station. This 16½ acre cemetery is not on a main road and is almost completely surrounded by tall brick walls with the gardens of Victorian housing beyond. Its potential to become a forgotten backwater is countered by the nearby Tube station from which issues a stream of patients bound for Charing Cross Hospital at the opposite end of the cemetery.

Despite being the final resting place of over 83,000 Hammersmith residents it is sparsely populated with headstones except along the central avenue where the larger monuments congregate. The explanation is that in 1951 it was designated a Garden of Rest and huge numbers of the older and more derelict monuments were removed. Since then it has been managed as a park, although in the last few years a small number of burials have been allowed in the space where two impressive lines of elm trees once stood either side of the central avenue. A favoured activity of the Friends group, since its formation a dozen years ago, has been to plant trees, each one with official permission, and some areas have more trees than headstones. In 1985 the cemetery became part of the local conservation area and being a well-kept open space it has been awarded the Green Flag for several years.

It was originally opened in 1869 as Hammersmith Cemetery but about seventy years ago it was renamed Margravine Cemetery to honour a remarkable local resident, the would-be actress, travel writer and firebrand, Lady Craven (1750-1828). After the death of Lord Craven, by whom she had had six children by the age of thirty, she married a former beau His Serene Highness the Margrave of Brandenburg, Anspach and Bayreuth. She thereby acquired the title of Margravine and the couple took up residence in Brandenburg House near the cemetery. Here they hosted magnificent soirees in their grounds beside the Thames where a theatre was built for her spirited dramatic performances.

All the disagreeably overcrowded churchyards in Hammersmith were rightly closed in 1854 in accordance with the Metropolitan Burials Act of 1852. However, the protracted gestation period that followed to open a compensatory cemetery is a story of farcical incompetence. The burial board took another fifteen years to open a cemetery, an abysmal effort considering contemporary maps show the surrounding area was mostly open countryside. In the intervening years residents were forced to pay elevated fees for burial outside the borough.

All the cemetery’s buildings, which included two chapels, three lodges and a Reception House, were the work of local architect George Saunders. His Anglican Chapel was demolished in 1953 but the smaller Non-conformist Chapel survives and its Gothic exterior was inspected by members.

The Chapel

The cemetery possesses a modest number of interesting graves. Top of the list would once have been Sir Emery Walker (1851-1933) who joined forces with William Morris on a number of printing enterprises and whose house by the river is still open to the public. His cremated remains were interred in his parents’ grave as still stated on their headstone. However, some years ago they were removed to Sapperton in the Cotswolds, a sad loss for a cemetery guide. Nevertheless, we still have Roy Byford (1873-1939), who was a large and very popular actor, who played the rumbustious roles in Shakespeare. His performances can be judged from a dozen films he made towards the end of his career. A humble family headstone tells the sad tale of a mother and her nine-year-old son who perished in the Princess Alice disaster on the Thames in 1878 when over 600 day trippers were drowned. Nearby is a much grander monument in bronze commemorating George Broad (1840-1895), a Hammersmith foundry owner who cast the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus, a very early use of aluminium for sculpture. His own self-cast monument is a splendid example of the artistry of the notable Italian sculptor Aristide Fabbrucci. Also on the central avenue is the grave of George Wimpey (1855-1913) who founded the building contractors responsible for the 1908 Olympic Games stadium and the famed White City. His monument is a broken column of finely polished granite, a debateable choice for a builder. A few yards further on is a large white marble cross to Abe Smith (1845-1923), who spent time in New South Wales prospecting for gold. On its base is a dear little carving of him sitting in his prospector’s hut dreaming of Hammersmith. Opposite is the cemetery’s only mausoleum, created by the Young family in 1883 following the devastating death of their son, Frederick, aged just eighteen. Next to this stands the War Memorial of J. Lyon’s & Co, which had its headquarters in Hammersmith. The monument was removed from the company’s former playing field at Greenford and re-erected here in 2002.

The most recent monumental restoration was funded by Historic England from a budget set aside for centenary commemorations of the First World War. A new sign tells how a few days before the Armistice in 1918 an explosion at W. E. Blake’s munitions factory in Wood Lane killed 13 people. This was unwanted news at a time of universal euphoria and received little press coverage. Local MP, mayor and later cemetery resident, Henry Foreman (1853-1924), felt that this was unfair on the victims and paid for a communal grave marked by a rugged granite cross. Because of its local historical significance it was listed Grade II in 2017, one of six listed monuments in the cemetery.

FHHS Members taking refreshment after their tour

Margravine cemetery’s Reception House is an attractive octagonal building with a steeply pitched roof and its purpose was to store coffins prior to burial. It owes its existence to a survey of urban burial practices published in 1843 by Edwin Chadwick (1800-1890). This discovered that 20,000 families in London were living in single rooms and when a death occurred they had nowhere else to store a coffin. Chadwick was appalled and his proposals to alleviate such problems were incorporated into the Metropolitan Interments Act of 1850. The Reception House was listed Grade II in 2016 and is the only free-standing example of its type in a London cemetery and the reason for this is that shortly after its construction undertakers began providing chapels of rest. As the evening shadows lengthened FHHS members entered the dimly lit interior to see the stone slabs around the walls capable of accommodating five coffins. Finally attendees were invited to partake of drinks under a yew tree kindly provided by the Friends of the cemetery.


MAYA’S WALKS & A NEW MAP

14 November, 2020

Like so many of our articles recently we are indebted to Maya Donelan for this charming essay.  I hope we all can find in this the cheerfulness and inspiration to keep active yet safe during this period of lockdown.  It is followed by a new map of quiet walking routes through London. (With a challenge for any techies!)

Three Cemeteries in West London

Earlier this year, when the world started to go mad, I suddenly realised how lucky I was to live in Fulham within walking distance of three cemeteries: Fulham Cemetery, Margravine Cemetery and the Brompton Cemetery. What wonderful choices for the daily walk.

Fulham Cemetery, established in 1865, with an entrance lodge (being converted into a private house) and its remaining chapel (now somewhat derelict) in situated between the Fulham Palace Road and Munster Road, Fulham. Designated as a Garden of Rest, it is a pleasant green space, with good trees. Sadly there are no spectacular monuments, but there is a touching area of very modest headstones from the 1940s. I think its chief interest is the very large number of WWI military graves, not arranged as usual in neat serried ranks within an enclosure, but scattered higgledy-piggledy throughout the cemetery. They are there as the former Fulham Hospital just up the road, now the site of the Charing Cross Hospital, was used as a military hospital during WWI. The soldiers were buried before the War Graves Commission was set up. It was obviously decided to mark their graves in situ, and not to dig them up and move them to a formal setting.

The Hammersmith or Margravine Cemetery at Barons Court, now also a Garden of Rest, was opened in 1869 by the Hammersmith Vestry. The cemetery contains a recently restored and listed ‘Receiving House’, unique in London. It has a few distinctive monuments – the most striking are the green bronze memorial to George Broad, who owned the foundry which made the Eros statue at Piccadilly Circus and that of ‘Abe Smith’ an Australian gold prospector, who died in 1923, depicted in his hut. This is just close to the J. Lyons & Co. WWI and II war memorials. The company was based at Cadby Hall in Hammersmith from 1894, until the 1980s when Cadby Hall was demolished and the great company began to disintegrate. Margravine is a very’ rural’ seeming cemetery – lots of open green grass areas, with few memorials, carpeted with bluebells and later cow parsley in the spring – a total joy!

And then of course, the Brompton Cemetery – one of London’s great marvels, loved and cherished by a wide range of people, with its imaginatively planned layout, splendid architecture and fascinating tombs. A real urban cemetery – but its wonderful trees and grassed walkways give a refreshingly open and relaxing atmosphere even in the heat of the summer. Now in autumn with the leaves falling from the trees and the undergrowth cut back – one can see all the memorials in full glory.

One week I went walking in the cemetery on three occasions, all ending in coffee with friends at the well-designed coffee shop, at the North Entrance- a great addition to the Cemetery and its delights.

On every visit I discover interesting memorials I had never noticed before. That is the joy of Brompton – every walk, in every weather brings forth new delights, or highlights new and never before noticed vistas. I am longing for the work on the silver numbered discs, designating famous or interesting people, to be completed, as at the moment it is somewhat complicated to attribute them to specific tombs. But it is a really good project and many congratulations to those who are working on it.

Brompton is a very west London cemetery – full of past local dignitaries, names that are well known to Kensington and Fulham local historians and also, for someone of my generation, friends of my Kensington dwelling parents. I have come across many memorials to those I remember from my childhood who are buried here with their distinctive Russian Orthodox monumental crosses.

Without the stimulus, both physical and intellectual of these cemetery walks, I would have found the last months very difficult to cope with – thanks to these sad, but wonderful places, so many of us have found pleasure and delight and learned to appreciate the treasure of cemeteries and their passed away occupants. 

We thank the staff and volunteers so much for all their efforts to keep the cemeteries open to the public throughout these difficult months

Maya Donelan November 2020

As a footnote I have included a new map which is the product of a collaboration to create a Network of walks in London that take quiet and interesting routes.  It comes in both physical and digital versions do see their website the aim is to encourage people to walk rather than tube or bus it.  The network starts at West Brompton Cemetery or Holland Park so on the edge of FHHS patch.

The challenge is for those adept with a smartphone or coding to perhaps plot some walks in our area noting points of Historical interest.  This would make a good school technology project.

Footways – Central London BETA – Map